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Minn. House race the costliest in U.S.

Marketplace Staff Oct 26, 2010

Minn. House race the costliest in U.S.

Marketplace Staff Oct 26, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Those votes that Scott Rasmussen counts are getting more expensive. Estimates are that spending this cycle is going to hit $2 billion.

There are some high profile Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns helping to boost the average. But one House race in particular stands out: the incumbent Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, and her Democratic challenger, Tarryl Clark, are running the costliest House race in the country.

Bachmann’s is something of a celebrity among conservatives. She’s the founder of the House Tea Party caucus. Democrats are spending millions of dollars to try to bring her down. But the cash Bachmann has on hand give her plenty of options.

From Minnesota Public Radio, Annie Baxter reports.

ANNIE BAXTER: Minnesota boasts a lot of big attractions. It’s home to 10,000 lakes, the Mall of America, and now a giant mountain of cash piled up in its 6th congressional District. GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has raised $11 million in her reelection bid. Her Democratic opponent, Tarryl Clark, has pulled in about $4 million so far. House races usually don’t see so many dollar signs unless a wealthy candidate is spending personal cash. And the fundraising isn’t over yet.

STEVEN SMITH: This a race that will probably total something in the neighborhood of $16-18 million, which is roughly 9 or 10 times what we see on average in a House District race across the country.

That’s Steven Smith. He’s a congressional expert at Washington University in St. Louis, but he actually lives in Minnesota’s 6th District. He says one reason the race in his backyard has become so expensive is Bachmann’s growing celebrity as a mini Sarah Palin. Smith says Bachmann is successfully using the Internet and social networking to tap into grassroots donors contributing $200 or less. Tarryl Clark is also drawing small contributions from Democrats who want to sink Bachmann. One of the effects of all those little donations is this:

AD: Michele Bachmann. Standing up for BP– not us.

AD: Tarryl Clark loves taxes.

So far Bachmann’s campaign has outspent Clark more than 2-to-1 on ads and everything else, including polling and voter lists. Steven Smith says those lists allow her campaign to target voters more effectively with direct mailings and telemarketing.

SMITH: They don’t try to organize to get out the vote drives on a block by block basis the way you’re used to in a Congressional contest where the legwork is the substitute for funding.

Though the district leans Republican, and Bachmann is favored to win, Smith expects Bachmann will keep her dukes up and checkbook open this week.

But Larry Noble, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, doubts Bachmann is going to spend all her money. He says if she wins, she’ll have plenty of cash left over to launch her next reelection bid. That’s a major advantage.

LARRY NOBLE: And that’s very important in these races because it tends to keep people out on the other side. And anybody looking to challenge her will have to deal with the fact that she is going to come in with a lot of money.

Bachman can use that leftover money on a bid for even higher office. Or dole it out piecemeal in contributions to GOP campaigns. But it’s less clear whether she’ll have enough clout to wave her fundraising wand and make her own supporters donate to fellow Republicans. Noble says that’s hard to do if your donations are tied to personality.

NOBLE: So it’ll be interesting. That’s one of the real questions.

One more effect of Bachmann’s cash? It’s forcing her opponent, Tarryl Clark, to spend just about every last dime she’s raised. If Clark loses this race, that’ll leave her starting from scratch if chooses to run again.

In Minnesota’s 6th District, I’m Annie Baxter for Marketplace.

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